The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday sent a letter to the Shawnee Mission Board of Education suggesting that it needed to adopt a more detailed policy about when and how law enforcement officers should be permitted to intervene if a student’s parent is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The letter stemmed from a Feb. 7 incident in which the mother of a 9 year old Briarwood Elementary student was detained by ICE (SM East’s student newspaper has a very good piece on the incident here). After being alerted to the mother’s detention, Prairie Village police arrived at the school and transported the boy to the Division of Child and Family Services in Olathe. The family maintains that at no point did school officials attempt to contact the boy’s father, who would have been able to pick him up.
“At the end of the school day, Briarwood staff members sent the student to the principal’s office and told him that he could not get on the bus to go home that day,” reads the letter from ACLU chief counsel and legal director Doug Bonney. “Shortly after the end of the school day, Prairie Village police arrived and took the student into state custody, apparently as a child in need of care.”
Bonney said other students were present when police arrived to pick the boy up.
“Other students still at the school that afternoon saw the police escort the boy to a squad car and take him away,” Bonney wrote the board. “These events traumatized the boy.”
In response to initial media reports about the incident, the district had issued a statement saying that, “No child was removed from a classroom or in front of other students at Briarwood by ICE or the police.” The incident drew sharp criticism from some parents, who brought it up during open forum of the board’s March meeting. In response to those parents’ questions, the district issued a new statement, with the line about there not being other students present when the boy was taken notably absent: “No child was removed from a classroom by ICE or the local police, and no child was arrested,” read the second statement. “In addition, the district has long-standing policy stating that every law enforcement agency must have a warrant to remove a student from school.”
In his letter, Bonney said that to avoid such traumatizing events in the future, the board should “at minimum” adopt three polices:
- 1.) A policy encouraging or mandating that all parents provide their children’s schools with a list of people for school staff to contact in case of emergency, including an authorization that the school can release the children to those emergency contacts.
- 2.) A policy requiring school staff to attempt to contact parents first and emergency contacts second before releasing children to government officials absent a valid warrant or court order; and
- 3.) A policy directing school staff to assist parents — including undocumented immigrants — in preparing emergency plans.
- “The current climate of fear among immigrants — both documented and undocumented — and in the wider school community requires a reassuring response from policymakers like members of the Shawnee Mission Board of Education,” Bonney wrote.
The letter in its entirety is embedded below.